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Top aide to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigns

Posted at 4:37 PM, Mar 30, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A top political aide to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned Wednesday, a week after he publicly admitted making inappropriate remarks to her but denied the two ever had an affair.

Rebekah Caldwell Mason announced her resignation in a statement sent by the governor's office, saying she would no longer be his senior political adviser and would no longer be paid by his campaign fund.

"My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly," she said.

As Bentley's confidante, sounding board, adviser and message molder, Rebekah Caldwell Mason has been there for the biggest moments of his political career, from his improbable 2010 election to the development of his major policy initiatives. More recently, she has been at the center of the lowest moment of his political career.

Last week, Mason was thrust into the spotlight when former Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier accused the 73-year-old governor of having an inappropriate relationship with her. Collier made the allegations a day after he was fired. The scandal has engulfed Bentley, a mild-mannered dermatologist and former Baptist deacon whose political ascendency was based partly on his morally upright, honest reputation.

Dianne Bentley, the governor's ex-wife, filed for divorce in 2015 saying their 50-year marriage had suffered an irreparable breakdown.

Mason, a former television news anchor in Bentley's hometown of Tuscaloosa, signed on as spokeswoman for the little-known legislator's 2010 longshot bid for governor. She worked as the governor's communications adviser before leaving to work on his 2014 re-election.

Observers said Mason helped the governor talk through options as he weighed decisions ranging from taking down Confederate flags to his proposed $800 million prison construction project before lawmakers.

Her detractors within the administration said her opinion increasingly became the only one Bentley would trust.

"At the end of 2014, Governor Bentley made it clear to me in no uncertain terms that from that point forward anyone who questioned Rebekah's influence would be fired," Collier said.

As his senior political adviser, she was not paid by the state. Instead, she was paid with campaign funds — something the governor's office said Bentley had done with previous political advisers in his administration.

Campaign records show Bentley's campaign paid Mason's company, RCM Communications, $76,500 in 2015 for consulting and travel reimbursement. Mason disclosed last week that the Alabama Council for Government Excellence, a nonprofit formed to promote Bentley's agenda, also paid her company $15,000 for consulting work.

Mason's husband also works for Bentley as the director of Serve Alabama, the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.

In a statement issued last week, she said Bentley "apologized to me and to my family, we accepted his apology and have put all of this behind us."